From his Go-Devil Manufacturing office near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Warren Coco describes to Ramsey Russell the origins of waterfowl mounts adorning the sunken cypress walls of his office to Ramsey. On the heels of an especially busy hurricane season – which has not yet ended – they talk about what is like to live in an area heavily impacted by hurricanes. The conversation turns to Coco’s having recently squirrel hunting. Quicker than a cat squirrel scurrying up a loblolly pine, the conversation quickly pivots to duck camp cooking and favored recipes. What are some of Coco’s favorite waterfowl mounts? Where’d he find his “sunken cypress’? What’s it like dealing with hurricanes as a way of life, and how do they affect waterfowl habitat? How’d Coco evolve from canned stew to camp chef and what are his favorite duck recipes? It’s a great episode about life south if the I-10 corridor in southern Louisiana and many duck recipes.
Warren Coco, Life Below I-10 and Camp Cooking
Southern Louisiana Lifestyle and Recipes
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to another great episode of Duck Season Somewhere. I’m your host, Ramsey Russell, and I am in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with today’s guest, Mr. Warren Coco. How are you, Warren?
Warren Coco: I’m doing great.
Ramsey Russell: I sure enjoyed the tour of GO-DEVIL Motors. That was impressive. I’m not going to lie to you. That was impressive.
Warren Coco: Well, it’s a lot to see here, and I get people—in fact, I gave a tour this morning, these two boys came in from Alabama, ordered boats. I said, “Y’all drove this far, so I’m going to give you a tour,” and they were very, very impressed. Get to see the whole operation from start to finish. We start out with sheets of metal—in some parts pre-cut—and we bend, form, weld, paint, assemble, test run, package, and ship everything right here.
Ramsey Russell: How many employees do y’all have now?
Warren Coco: I was down to about 27. I think I’m up to about 34, right now, because we got real busy. This virus came along, and I said, “Man, we ain’t going to make enough money to stay in business.” We were pretty busy, and I had about seven people didn’t come to work—which I wasn’t going to force them to come to work, everybody’s scared to death—and they all dribbled back in here. And we got busy, and then it just busted wide open. It’s unbelievable. We’ve been like sixty boats out for the past month.
Ramsey Russell: The reason I asked that was because, you made a comment in there, you said, “All these people are doing what me and my two partners used to do.”
Warren Coco: Well, one partner. I had one partner and one employee. We did it all, but we weren’t doing the volume of business of what we’re doing right now. We’d sell several hundred engines a year, and now we’re building boats, rigging boats, and everything is a lot more complicated. It was a whole lot easier when everything was square with holes punched in it than it is now when everything is cut with a laser or with a computer. Just a whole different ball game now than what it used to be, on the products we’re building.
Warren Coco’s Duck Taxidermy
Ramsey Russell: Well, everybody was hard at work, going at it real hard down there, and the office is impressive. It took me thirty minutes to get introduced to your office with all these ducks and decoys and all these hybrids in here. That’s what’s so impressive. You got a couple of Brewer’s ducks and all kinds of stuff in here. What else you got in here?
Warren Coco: We got a pintail hen. Mallard hen. I got a hermaphrodite. Everybody looks at that duck. They think it’s a young drake, but when you look at the bill, it’s got a bill like a hen. What that is, it’s an old hen spitting out male hormones. That’s a common duck. People don’t catch that when they shoot one. They don’t know. They think it’s a drake, a young drake, but it’s not. Then I’ve got two Brewer’s ducks in here and one outside, which is a Greenhead x Gadwall cross. And I got a Greenhead x Black Duck hybrid. I’ve shot that one and I shot another one. I might have told that story. We were hunting before the freeze came, killed one, and gave it away to somebody to mount. And then I had another in the decoys. I wouldn’t shoot it because I had one mounted and I wasn’t going to mount a second one.
But I’ve got other common ducks; got Eurasian wigeon, black mallard, goldeneye, harlequin. A lot of these ducks were given to me, came from Alaska. I had traveled Alaska to go shoot divers and I got Ross’s goose, blue goose, spoonbill, bufflehead. Most unusual one I have in here is this Green-winged Teal x Pintail hybrid. I’ve heard of a couple other of those being shot but I’ve never seen another one. But I know there are some others.
I always said, if I ever shot a cinnamon teal I was going to mount it with a green-wing and a blue-wing, and I did. My son, Lance, shot that cinnamon teal down the mouth of the river. In limbo, on the outside looking in with no place else to hunt ducks, I started duck hunting back down at Pass a Loutre. Another unusual duck we have in here is an oldsquaw drake shot in Hackberry several years ago. My neighbor was hunting with me and he saw a duck. My hands were in my pockets. I said, “Shoot him! Shoot him! It’s an oldsquaw.” I did him on the fly. Chased him down, got him. It was an oldsquaw drake, first year plumage. And that’s a duck that never comes to Louisiana.
Ramsey Russell: He was lost. He took a wrong turn in Albuquerque or something.
Warren Coco: Did I tell you the story about the goldeneyes I saw one day? We were driving out—this is real unusual. Talk about ducks imprinting. I had never really thought much of it. People say, “Well, ducks need to imprint. They’ll keep coming back.” I never thought much about it. And one day I was driving out of Hackberry, crossing through the marsh and oil field road right before we got back to the high ground, and a goldeneye jumped up off the side of the road and flew off to the north. I said, “Look at that, a goldeneye drake.” I said, “That’s something else. We don’t never see that here.” There’s a bunch of oyster shells right there. I think he was eating little oysters off the side of the road, that were growing on those shells.
Next year, at the end of season, driving out, they had a goldeneye pair at the same place on the other side of the road. I said, “Well, looky here. That’s unusual.” That duck came back, brought a hen with him. By three years later, I saw seven at the same location out in the pond. Within fifty yards of where I saw the first bunches, there was about seven goldeneyes sitting out in the pond. And that right there proves that those ducks come back to where they had came before. That proves it. Because to see a goldeneye in Louisiana? That’s very, very unusual.
Ramsey Russell: He found a little safe spot with all kinds of good food to eat.
Warren Coco: That’s it. Nobody’s going to shoot him off the side of the road, right there next to a bunch of hunting camps.
Pecky Cypress, Sinker Cypress
Ramsey Russell: No. The wood paneling inside your office—and throughout your building, especially—is what I call pecky cypress. But you were telling me the history of this cypress you’ve got in this office here. It’s pretty amazing.
Warren Coco: This is all sinker cypress. These were all logs that were lost. Most of them were lost, some of them from dead falls that—the timber industry, when they cut all this cypress timber in Louisiana, most of this came out of Atchafalaya Spillway. But I got about six thousand board feet in my house. I got about five thousand in this office and I got about four thousand in my hunting camp in Hackberry. And all this stuff—I took it wet off the sawmill, made my own kiln out of a shipping container, dried it. Then brought it, had it all milled, and then my partner nailed all this up. Then my door guy built all these doors, and I got all eight-foot, raised-panel doors. It’s all gorgeous lumber. I love it. I love looking at it. It’s so pretty.
Ramsey Russell: Don’t you wonder how old that cypress was? When it was cut, it could be a thousand years old.
Warren Coco: It could have been. Some of it out there is green, that was a tree that fell over at Amite River about four miles from here. I had brought my son many years ago. We were going to run some catfish lines in the river. Amite River is a shallow, sandy river with a little bit of gravel in it. There’s a lot of gravel pits a way up above Baton Rouge where the Amite River runs. We’re riding along there to go, and I look up and I saw this tree fell over in the river. It floated up there, and one end of it was on an oak tree that fell over the river. The other end was up on the bank. I drove by there. I said, “That can’t be a cypress log.” I said, “We’ll check it when we come back.” Went on up the river, we fool around, we come back. I stop, I hit it with a machete, cut it. I smelled that sap and said, “I’ll be doggone. That’s a cypress tree.” So I said, “We’re going to come back and get this one.”
We came back with a chainsaw, and the stump end was up on that oak tree. So I thought I knew what I was doing. It turned out I did. I cut the stump end off about 98%, just left a little bit holding. The other end was up on a dirt bank, and I cut it. And when it dropped and fell, it broke the other end off so the whole thing was floating. I did it perfect. Probably by accident, but I did get it in the water. Then we tied on with the GO-DEVIL and drug it up to the closest boat launch. I’d brought a trailer. So I cut in three pieces, and I had a flatbed tagalong trailer. I got a heavy duty one you can put a car on, like a car hauler. We back it in the water and we can float it in three pieces, get the log on there. The bottom half—half of it was broke off, was gone.
I brought it to a guy who had a sawmill, and he cut it up for me. He said it took him four blades to cut that one log. When I saw the blade hit that wood, sparks flew out of it. Sand was embedded in that wood. The unique part about that log—when you cut all that stuff, it changes colors when it dries. Just like different colors. Most of this is what they call tidewater red, what you’re seeing here. That log I found on the river over there was totally green, looked like treated lumber. And I’d always heard a lot of the stuff is a bluish gray, or gray and a green, and a lot of people would say, “That’s because it laid in that mud down there in Maurepas Swamp. That black mud made it turn color.” I just proved that untrue because this log was green. It never saw black mud. It was on a sandy river. It never got any humus and never was submerged in humus like a sinker log would be in a swamp. But it was gorgeous lumber. It’s all cypress and it’s all pretty, every bit of it.
Living with Louisiana Hurricanes
Ramsey Russell: It sure is. I’m going to ask you this question. We were supposed to meet a few weeks ago, go bass fishing down at your place in Hackberry, and a hurricane blew in. I called you to see what you were up to. I figured you’d be home watching Weather Channel like everybody else. No, you were down there climbing around on the roof of your camp house. And since we last recorded, you’ve had two hurricanes down there in Hackberry. But it’s like people here in this part of the world—if you watch the news and watch the Weather Channel, hurricanes are the end of the world. But if you get down south of I-10, it’s just bad weather.
Warren Coco: That’s part of Louisiana life. I’ve lived with hurricanes all my life. When I was in the second grade, Hurricane Hilda came through. We were without power for two weeks. We had to climb over thirty oak trees to get to the house. And we lived way out of town—which now it’s almost in town, where that location is. But we’ve always had hurricanes, and Hurricane Hilda taught me a lesson. That being without electricity for two weeks, that never left my mind. That’s why, twenty years ago, I said, “One day, I’m going to have a big enough generator to run this place.” About eighteen years ago I bought one. I bought a 100kW generator. Runs my whole business, my house, and the house next door, where I got some workers that stay. We don’t shut down for anything.
One time a storm was coming, and it was all over the news. They were telling everybody we need to go get bread, go get milk, go get drinking water, and all this. So my wife says, “What do I need to get? What do I need to get?” I said, “You don’t need to get nothing.” “So how come all those other people got to get all that stuff?” I said, “They don’t have a 100kW generator and three water wells tied together.” I said, “We ain’t running out of water. We ain’t running out of electricity. We’re good to go. And we got freezers full of food.” I said, “We don’t need anything. Just make sure you got milk.”
Ramsey Russell: Looking at social media, a lot of folks I know that got duck camps down southwest Louisiana, the water surge got them. Let’s talk about hurricanes. About the wind, about the water surge, about what it can do to parts of the coastal marsh waterfowl habitat. I guess if you grow up around stuff like that, you just roll up your sleeves and say, “Oh, I got to go fix it again.” That’s what everybody’s doing.
Warren Coco: That’s what you got to do. Every hurricane storm is different. It depends on where it enters land, what the damage is going to be. Hurricane Rita came through and took off part of the roof of my camp because I didn’t have it secured properly. When you build something in the coastal zone, the edges of your roof need to be triple stitched. You put a screw on every flat out on the edge of that roof. And what I had done—I had a cheap corrugated tin roof on there and before the storm came I said, “Man, I’m going to change that roof before a storm gets me.” And was peeling all the old roof off, putting the new roof on. Where I made a mistake, I let the tin hang over about twelve inches. Well, Rita come through there, and the eye wall passed right over my camp. That’s where the strongest winds are. They give you the winds of a hurricane, that’s at the eye wall. That’s not out five miles, ten miles. It weakens as it gets further out. Anyway, it pulled out the first row of screws and broke it off at the second. So we went there and opened everything up to get it dried out, came home Monday morning to order material. Next Saturday I was there putting the roof back on. But since then, I have triple stitched everything.
I’ve added on a couple of times to the camp. Then hurricane Ike comes through, and it came into Galveston. Well, the storm surge is always east of the eye because the hurricane makes a counter-clockwise rotation as it’s churning. And on the west side it has a tendency to pull the water out. On the east side, it’s stacking the water up, pushing it up on the coast. With Rita, we had a storm surge in my camp of about 4.5 to 5 feet. Never got in my camp. When Ike came, we had a storm surge of about 6.5 to 7 feet. I got about fourteen inches in my camp. I had to open the walls up, pull out wet insulation, get it all dried out. But I went back with Styrofoam in the bottom 2 to 2.5 feet. If it gets wet again, all I’m going to do is open it up and put a dehumidifier in it while I’m there and leave it open. Let it dry out. I don’t have any insulation in the bottom end to get wet anymore. This last storm, the law came aboard. It went right up the Calcasieu ship channel. So I was on the west side. I was what they call the good side of it. It came in and, to my knowledge, that’s the strongest storm that has ever hit the Gulf Coast, and possibly even the country. It was 150 miles an hour when it touched land. It destroyed most everything. A lot of things in Calcasieu Pass, up Lake Charles.
Everybody’s done forgot about Lake Charles. They don’t understand how much damage it had. But one thing—the storm surge was all to the east. I look at the river stages almost every day. I look at Sabine Pass and Calcasieu Pass. I’m in between those two, closer to Sabine. When that storm came in, a storm surge at Sabine Pass jumped up—at five and half feet, it spiked. It didn’t stay up ten minutes and went right back down. We had no time for the water to come in. It went right back out. The Calcasieu Pass went to about seven and a half feet. So they didn’t get much water there, neither, because it was just for a short period of time at the edge of the gulf. Water never came in far enough. We go over to Rockefeller Refuge, east—they got like fifteen to seventeen feet, over there, because they were further away from the eye where the water pushed in and came over the sea shore.
But I lost the walls off my porch, the roof off my porch, my cleaning shed, and part of the roof on my camp. I was there a day and a half later, brought some material with me, pulled out the weather insulation on the roof, temporarily covered it up. Came back, ordered material, made all my measurements, ordered material. The next week, I was there, had it all sealed back up. Then we had to rebuild the porch. After about three weekends, I had all that done. And then, all of a sudden, uh oh, here comes Delta. Coming right at us. The early prediction is—it’s down there, it wasn’t even at Cancun yet, out by the Yucatan peninsula, it was still below that—and they’re pointing it right at Louisiana. Say, “Oh, Lord, lookit here.” So we watched it and watched it and watched it. And then they put it right on us. It came in at Creo, which isn’t but about seven miles east of the center line where the other one passed. It came in at about 105 miles an hour. Well, I didn’t lose anything on that one. I had the edge of the tin on my boat shed kind of get roughed a little bit. Both of these storms—the water on my camp is on an oil field location with a levee around it—it didn’t even jump the levee. In other words, all I had to pump out was rainwater.
Now, in between these two storms, we had a third one. It would be the second one. It came in in Texas and came across the north side of us. Slow-moving, and it brought in a lot of water. What I never realized before—every time I saw a hurricane come in, as it enters the Gulf, the water jumps up two feet. I just thought it was from the wind. But my nephew, Joe, is a civil engineer. He explained it to me, said, “Oh, no, it’s low pressure. Low pressure on the Gulf creates a vacuum, creates a lift. So that makes more water come in, from the Caribbean and the Atlantic, to the Gulf, when you have a low pressure. Get a high pressure—like a cold front comes through—it blows the water out.” Well, I always thought the wind blew it out, but it’s a combination of the wind and the high pressure pushing down on the water, on the Gulf. It’s pushing it out. That helps lower the water level. The high pressure, plus the north wind is pushing it out.
We never stop learning things, especially about hurricanes and weather. But these storms, it’s just part of life down here. I will never trade a hurricane for a tornado. They can keep them tornadoes up in the Midwest. I don’t want any tornadoes because I’ve seen that they leave nothing when they pass. You’ll have nothing left to work with. You start from scratch.
How Hurricanes Affect Coastal Marsh Waterfowl Habitat
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. I’ve always heard that a lot of storm surge like you’re talking about—that low pressure, or the surge itself being blown in by the wind—really wreaks havoc on parts of the marsh where you’ve got a lot of wild rice and submerged aquatics and coontail and wigeon grass and all that good stuff. I’ve heard that saltwater comes in and just obliterates the waterfowl habitat.
Warren Coco: Well, it depends on where you are. Just like I said before, every storm that comes in is different. These two storms that just came—I don’t think I have a lily pad out of place because we didn’t have any storm surge. Now, when Rita came, it about destroyed the coast of southwest Louisiana. It rolled up all the aquatics and took them because it had a lot of water came with it. Where I was at, north of Sabine Pool, a big high levee kept a lot of the water and debris off of me. We had the best duck season we ever had, the year of Rita. A lot of people couldn’t even hunt. They shut down, didn’t even hunt, and we couldn’t miss a limit. We shot a limit every day. We couldn’t miss. It was unbelievable how good it was.
This year, I can’t see where I’ve lost any submerged aquatics because we didn’t get any high water. Now, east of us, they probably had a lot of damage. What happens with them wind and waves is, it will roll those aquatics up and put them up on the marsh, put them up on the bank, and you’re losing your duck food. The duck food that’s growing, predominantly, in my marsh now is eelgrass, and it’s rooted in tight into the bottom. It holds up real well. But I don’t see any damage on my place. But, now, west of me and east of me, I can’t answer because I haven’t been there.
Ramsey Russell: Is all that work you did down in your marshes protecting you from some of these storm surges and these climatic events?
Warren Coco: Oh, yeah, those terrace levees I built, definitely. What they do is stop the wave action up to a certain point. Because you build that terrace levy, and it is vegetated and the levee stays intact. You’re getting zero erosion because it’s 110% covered with emergent vegetation. Cordgrass, wiregrass, cattails. We’ve got everything from sawgrass to roseau cane. Everything you can think of was growing on the edges of the levees and on top of the levees, and that just gives you a more secure base. It’s not going to wash away, and slows wave action down. When you’ve got big open water, and the waves come across—the energy force is just humongous. When them waves hit, they just start tearing stuff up and just destroy everything.
Ramsey Russell: You were talking about that Hurricane Laura being such a big storm to hit. It was amazing to me that the news didn’t cover it like they normally would. But it was the first time in recorded history, if I’m recalling right, that Shreveport, Louisiana, was under a hurricane warning. It was a big deal.
Warren Coco: It wasn’t a big storm; it was an intense storm. In other words: Katrina filled up the Gulf, it was so big, and that’s why it brought so much water. It sat there and moved slowly and, with the circular motion, pushed all that water. That’s what flooded New Orleans. We didn’t get anything, in the west, from it because we were on the good side of it. But what was so bad about this storm, the wind was so strong. 150 mile an hour winds coming in, and then it just carried itself on up and just kept on going. The good thing about it: it was fast-moving. When one sits there in one spot is when you get the most damage. Once it came to shore, it took off, and that’s what this last one did, also. Delta did the same thing. It didn’t sit still. It took off and it ran. Which is good for everybody, where you don’t get that constant pounding from the wind. We got a little wind, here in Baton Rouge. It wasn’t bad at all. I think we might have got about 40-45 mile an hour winds. Only lost one tree, next door, and the reason it fell, it had a rotten spot in it. It was half rotten, is why it fell. The other night, I wouldn’t have lost a tree over here, and I got plenty of them to lose. There’s plenty of trees, here.
Louisiana Opening Weekend Squirrel Hunting Tradition
Ramsey Russell: We didn’t get to go fishing because of Delta, and I wanted to come down last week and record, but you were going squirrel hunting.
Warren Coco: Yeah. The weekend before, we went squirrel hunting,
Ramsey Russell: Is that a big thing you do, squirrel hunting?
Warren Coco: Yeah. I always go to opening weekend. I’ll try to go a couple of times. Get enough to put in the freezer, to cook. I love eating squirrels, and I love hunting them. I’d never killed over about two in a hunt until one of my friends says, “Get you a stool and sit down and don’t move.” And that’s when I started killing them. Now, I’ve got bigger and fatter and older, and I can’t sleep like an Indian, like my friends I brought with me can. We went Saturday. I got one spot I always hunt. I started hunting right at the camp, down inside the old lake bed stripped of hardwoods. I got in there, and them squirrels would see me. They’d run, and I got a whistle I use, a little Mr. Squirrel whistle, and it works absolutely fabulous.
But I think all of them squirrels know me. They said, “Listen up! Here he comes, hide!” I didn’t kill but two, that first day. The second day, I went and I brought two friends of mine, Ray Clebert, my engineer, and another friend, Ira Padaro. They came to the bow hunt and squirrel hunt, and Ira didn’t bring a gun. He just brought his bow. I said, “You want to go squirrel hunting? I got a .17 you can use.” So both of them hunted with .17 calibers. Both of them shot a limit both days with a .17, and I couldn’t kill them with a shotgun. Second day, I killed four, lost three that I knocked down, and missed two more. I said, “I’m getting old and I ain’t as good as I used to be.”
Warren Coco’s Squirrel Gravy Recipe
Ramsey Russell: How do you cook those squirrels?
Warren Coco: Oh, man. Everybody will tell you, there ain’t nothing that makes gravy like a squirrel. What I do is, I brown them. I brown all meat and use white onions, that’s my famous saying for cooking. I’ll take those squirrels and I’ll brown them. First I prepare them. I cut the legs off the body, get rid of the rib cage, and keep the back and the four legs. Then I brown those squirrels. I’ll take onions and bell peppers, smother that down till it is transparent. Add some minced garlic. Add my seasoning and throw that in there. Throw the squirrels in there, and then I’ll use a brown gravy mix. And I’ll add fresh mushrooms, sliced mushrooms. Let all that cook down. I’ll use the Tony Chachere’s brown gravy mix. You want to mix that in cold water. Don’t pour it in a hot pot, it’ll clabber up and it won’t want to mix. You mix it in cool water out the faucet, mix it with that, and it mixes real good. You pour it in there, and it mixes right in. Then I’ll add my Cajun seasoning to taste. If I make a big pot of squirrels, I’ll add a half a can of tomato paste. I don’t want it red like an Italian gravy, I want it tinted. I want a brown gravy that’s tinted red. Then I’ll cook those so they’re tender. I don’t cook them till they’re falling off the bones, but I cook them where you can eat them off the bone. I want tender. And I’ll serve that over rice. That’s my favorite way to cook them.
Ramsey Russell: It sounds like you could cook anything that way. Ducks or anything. That sounds like a perfect recipe for cooking anything.
Warren Coco: Well, I use the exact same recipe for rabbit. Don’t do anything different for a rabbit. Brown your meat and do the same thing. Put the tomato paste in. If you don’t like tomato paste, just leave it out. It should still be good. But I do add a little bit of tomato paste to it.
South Louisiana Cooking
When folks down here start talking about cooking something, they’re usually talking about a big cast iron pot and they’re talking about making a gravy. Whether it’s ducks or rabbits or squirrels or anything, it’s always the same. And it’s all just unbelievably good.
Ramsey Russell: Coming down here to south Louisiana, I love the deep south food the best. It’s like the further south you get, almost, the better it gets. And you get down here south of I-10, when folks down here start talking about cooking something, they’re usually talking about a big cast iron pot and they’re talking about making a gravy. Whether it’s ducks or rabbits or squirrels or anything, it’s always the same. And it’s all just unbelievably good.
Warren Coco: We all use iron pots, predominantly. We use iron pots more than we do anything else when you’re cooking your meal or sauce or gravy or something like that. I’ll use a Teflon skillet, sometimes, but most times we’re cooking everything in an iron pot. That’s what we’ve always done, and I guess that’s the way we’ll always do it.
Ramsey Russell: Are you the camp cook at your camper? Does everybody pitch in?
Warren Coco: I do most of the cooking. I got some other guys. I don’t let many of them cook because they’re not capable. Cooking is a big deal for us in south Louisiana, and good food. I’ve traveled all over this country and when I leave Louisiana, I don’t eat nothing but red meat and chicken. I won’t eat any type of seafood. They just don’t know how to cook it.
Going back to Louisiana style cooking, I never did cook much when I first started duck hunting and hunting down the river. We’d bring a Coleman stove with us. We had Dinty Moore beef stew we’d heat in the can; that was the extent of our cooking. Yeah, we didn’t know how to cook. Then we built a camp in Maurepas and we had a member there, and that was Kevin Dooley. He was a coonass from Delcambre who was in the shrimp business. He knew how to cook and he taught me how to cook. He was unbelievable, but his forte should have been a comedian. He was the funniest guy you ever met. He kept you laughing the whole time he was there. One time, he came—and I cooked almost every night because I was hunting every day and I’d cook. When he came, though, I just backed up. I said, “It’s all yours. What are we eating tonight?” He says, “Man—” He had that strong south Louisiana accent. I said, “Man, what are we eating tonight, Dooley?” And he says, “Oh, man, I got some shrimp, I got some this, I got some of that.” He said, “And I got a deboned chicken.” I said, “What in the hell is a deboned chicken?” He says, “Man, they take this chicken and they cut him open and they pull all his bones out and they sew him up and stuff them with shrimp and rice.” It sounds pretty good.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, boy.
Cajun Deboned Chickens
Warren Coco: So it is. It’s good. Anyway, he was prepping something, working on something inside the camp, and his buddy was cooking that chicken. He had it on a barbecue pit—like an old smokey barbecue pit—and that ain’t how you cook a deboned chicken, but that’s how he was cooking it, find out later. And then he went to turn the thing over, which you never turn it, and it busted open. Part of the rice and stuff run out of it. I said, “Man, look at all this mess he’s got.” Anyway, we kind of salvage it, piece it all back together. We served it that night. It was absolutely fabulous. Now this had to be back—we built that camp in ‘85, about ‘84, ‘85. This was probably about ‘87. We ate that deboned chicken.
I said, “Man, where you get this deboned chicken from?” He said, “Man, I bought that stuffed chicken at Hebert’s Specialty Meats in Maurice, Louisiana.” I know exactly where that’s at. I pass that going to Iberville. So I’m going to start buying it. So I stop by there and I buy some of these deboned chickens. And, one time, I stopped and on the side of the building it had deboned turkeys. And I asked the guy inside, “Man, what’s the story of them deboned turkeys?” He says, “Man, I see you’re buying the chickens. You like those? You’ll like the turkey better.” I said, “Give me two of them. One for Thanksgiving. One for Christmas.” Well, I cooked that one for Thanksgiving. It was out of this world.
So next time I passed, I said, “I’m going to stop, pick up one for my buddy Jimmy Nugent.” Never had over three people in that place. I stopped. It was like three days before Christmas. Line was out the door. I said, “Man, what the hell is going on here?” So I got in line, and a lady got right in there behind me. A guy walks out the door, one of the employees. He calls to everybody and says, “Look, if you don’t have nothing on the order, we ain’t got nothing to sell.” I said, “Huh?” Then I was talking to that lady. I said, “I came to order a turkey. I guess I ain’t going to get one.” She said, “Well, I’m canceling an order on one, and you can have mine.” Said, “All right, I’ll take yours.” They wouldn’t let me have hers. So he didn’t get no turkey, irregardless. But, every year, I buy them. I buy them for my employees. That thing has spread all over Louisiana, and spread a lot further now.
Ramsey Russell: And what’s it stuffed with?
Warren Coco: Well, they make them with all kinds of stuffing.
Ramsey Russell: Because when we had dinner at your camp, not too long ago, I think it was a chicken stuffed with boudin.
Warren Coco: Yeah, that was some boudin in it. They take that chicken, they open it up, they get all the bones out, then they’ll stuff it with whatever different types of things. Real popular is shrimp and rice, crawfish and rice, the cornbread stuffing, boudin and rice, and all that. The only bones in it are the wing bones. The rest of it, you cut it with a fork. You don’t need a knife to cut it when you cook it. It’s tender. Now, after, if you’re going to eat it the next day, it’s going to get a little tougher. But, boy, when it’s fresh out the oven. What’s so unique about it—you take it out the pack, put it in the pan, breast down, and you don’t cover it—leave it uncovered—and put it in there, breast down, for an hour and fifteen minutes at 375º. You got a meal. It’s done. You can feed three people off that chicken. To make it even better, by the last twenty minutes, you take a can of cream of mushroom soup and dump on top of it and let that kind of dry up a little bit on there. Won’t be dry, about the last twenty minutes. That makes it even better.
Ramsey Russell: Well, since the ‘80s, you done taking over cooking. You ain’t eating that Dinty Moore stew.
Warren Coco: No, I don’t eat Dinty Moore stew. I’ve learned how to— I do real well cooking game like fish, frog legs, ducks. I got more recipes than—and I’ve got a lot of them typed up right now. But people like me, we don’t ever measure anything, and it’s hard for me to write a recipe because I don’t know how much I’m putting in there. It’s just kind of eyeballing it as you go. But I’ve learned a lot from a lot of other people about cooking. We used to take a guy we leased property from, in the Miami Corporation. He lived in New Orleans and his favorite place to eat was Galatoire’s. Galatoire’s is a world-known restaurant in the French Quarter, and he loved to eat there. Well, just so happened, my friend Jimmy Nugent I had mentioned, his wife’s name is Simone Galatoire. Her father ran the restaurant. So what we’d do, we’d send ducks down there, and they’d cook them for us. They’d cook them in gravy, with wine in them, and they were absolutely fabulous. We’d go down there once a year and take Mr. Vincent to eat. With all the camp members—there were four of us—and him, and then, sometimes, Roger, Jr. would come—there was Roger Vincent, Sr. and Jr. They knew I caught a lot of frogs, and Roger said, “Man, next year, why don’t you send some frog legs down here?” I said, “I sure will.” So, I sent some down there, and they cooked them frog legs. Can I tell you? Best thing I ever put in my mouth.
Galatoire’s French Quarter Inspired Frog Legs Recipe
So, I sent some frog legs down there, and they cooked them. Can I tell you? Best thing I ever put in my mouth.
Ramsey Russell: How’d they cook them?
Warren Coco: They sauteed them. I went in the back, saw the chef, said, “How did you cook these things?” He said, “I sauteed them in butter with seasoning and I put some lemon juice on them.” Said, “Okay. I got it.” What I’m doing is a little bit different than what they did. But the end result is close to the same, except I think mine were a little more tender. You can take those great big, what I call river frogs, what you catch out of the Atchafalaya Spillway, what you catch out of the Mississippi River. You catch one in a net, they just about pull the net out your hand, they’re so big. They weigh two pounds a piece, and the legs—you cut the legs off, as big as a chicken leg, and when you fry them, they’re tough. They’re good to eat, but they’re not a delicacy like a small frog—like a marsh frog, a croaker that we catch, or a small bullfrog. But I can take any frog and cook it this way. What I do is, I’ll soak that frog leg in real lemon concentrate for about twenty minutes. Not over twenty minutes. Then I’ll take those frog legs and put them in a colander and drain them till they’re almost dry. Then you take flour, salt, and black pepper. And you use McCormick black pepper because it’s very, very fine. You put so much black pepper that the flour turns grey. It’s not going to be hot. Don’t be scared of putting too much. I want that flour to get a gray tint to it. And you roll it in that, and then you take a Teflon-coated skillet and two sticks of butter, at a medium heat, and you sautee them in butter. It takes about 20-25 minutes to cook a batch. You put them in there, that medium heat, they’re sitting there bubbling, and when they turn brown on that side, you flip them over. About half that time, they’ll be brown on the other side. Them great big old frog legs is tough. You can grab them by each end, pull them apart, and suck the meat off the bones. It’ll just fall off the bones. And that lemon on there just gives it an absolute wonderful flavor. I have not fried a frog leg since I started cooking them that way. I will not fry one anymore.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve got a gallon bag of frog legs in my freezer at camp, I think is going to get cooked that way, right there. Do you got a favorite way to cook duck?
Warren Coco’s Duck Recipes
Warren Coco: Man, I got so many ways to cook duck, you can’t write them all down.
Ramsey Russell: Please talk about your favorite couple. Before you start with a recipe, is there a certain duck you like to cook that way?
Bacon-wrapped Duck Breast Recipe
“Look, I just wanted to tell you. I don’t eat ducks. I don’t like ducks. I can’t stand the taste of ducks. But I’ll fight you for those.”
Warren Coco: Well, this recipe you can do with any duck. What I tend to do with ducks, I pick all teal, wood ducks, and pintails. I will not breast one. I will breast a gray duck, and a mallard, and I will pick some mallards, too. But everything else will generally breast. Because I’ve got different recipes. Different ways I like to cook them. Everybody has wrapped ducks in bacon. Everybody’s got a recipe for wrapping ducks in bacon, and what I did, when I started doing it, I combined about three different things that I learned. I went to a dinner party, one time, in New Orleans, and they had taken some duck breast and marinated it in Italian dressing, seasoning, wrapped it in bacon, cooked it on a pit. But the mistake they made, they had cut the duck in strips. They didn’t leave it whole. It wasn’t supposed to be done that way. It was good, but it would have been better whole. And then I ate some teal, one time, a guy had cooked with orange marmalade on it. Then, another time, another recipe I learned: picked ducks, cut them in half, put them on a barbecue pit, season with salt and pepper, and baste them with margarine. So what I did, I combined all that.
My recipe is, I take a duck breast, gadwall or mallard. You can do this with teal, but it’s almost a sin to not pick a teal. But anyway, take that duck breast—you can marinate in Italian dressing or not, that’s not as important as the rest. Get your Cajun seasoning. Season it lightly. I’ll take a piece of onion. I’ll take an onion, vertical and slice slices off the sides of it. I’ll take a piece of onion on one side, piece of bell pepper on the other. Then I’ll buy some good, heavy bacon—like Wright Brand Bacon, it’s a real heavy bacon—and I’ll wrap that around that duck breast with that onion and bell pepper. When I get done with toothpicks, it looks like a porcupine. I don’t want that bacon to move. I’m going to wrap it as tight as I can get it and put about ten toothpicks in there. Then I’m going to season that bacon lightly, again. Now I got my pit going, my barbecue pit. I put them ducks on the barbecue pit and I keep a glass of water on the side. So if the bacon fat drips catch fire, I want to put the fire out. Then I take a stick of butter, or a stick of margarine, heat it in a saucepan with a can of beer, and warm that up. And every time you turn them ducks, you baste it with that beer and that margarine. That keeps the duck from drying out. And when the bacon is cooked, the ducks were done. All right, now, whatever’s left in the pot, I throw out. Then I put some orange marmalade in it and I warm that up. Then I brush that marmalade, with a mop, on top that duck. Then, I roll it over, let that fire hit that marmalade. Then, I put that marmalade on the other side. I brush it, roll it over, and now you’re done. And I like to serve that with my cardiac arrest potatoes, and I’ll tell you about that next. Anyway, quick story on those ducks.
I went to hunt as a guest at my place in Hackberry. We hunted there in the 70’s and lost our lease that we had. But I went back to the place I own now and hunted as a guest. They had three camps on the bayou bank. It was like three groups of people. I was cooking those ducks like that. One guy come over there, said, “Man, what are you cooking?” I said, “I’m cooking ducks.” He said, “Man, that sure looks good.” I said, “It is.” He said, “Look, I got bell pepper and onion and bay. Would you do something for us?” “Yeah, go get all your stuff.” So he brought his duck. We prepped it. We had a 55-gallon drum barbeque pit full. Couldn’t put another one on it. Cooked them all, and everybody went off to their own camps and all that. I’ll never forget.
One old man came back over there and said, “I need to talk to you.” Said, “What’s that?” He said, “Look, I just wanted to tell you. I don’t eat ducks. I don’t like ducks. I can’t stand the taste of ducks. But I’ll fight you for those.” He said, “That’s the best ducks I ever put in my mouth.” I said, “I have not seen anybody that didn’t like that recipe.”
Cardiac Arrest Potatoes Recipe
Warren Coco: But what I like to serve those ducks with—I make what I call my cardiac arrest potatoes. I’ll take about half a pound of bacon, chop it up real fine, cook it down in my iron pot. Take all the bacon out after it’s cooked down thoroughly. Set that on a paper plate on the side. Pull most of the grease off, just leave a little bit of bacon fat in there. Put my onions and bell peppers, smother that down. Then I’ll take white Irish potatoes, wash them, leave the skin on, slice them about a quarter-inch thick, and fill that pot up with them potatoes. Got the onions and bell pepper in there. Then I’ll throw my bacon back in there. Then I will add some minced garlic, about a full loaded teaspoon of minced garlic, in a five quart pot full of potatoes. Add about an inch of water in there. Got to kind of check your water, cover it, cook it at a medium heat, low heat. And you’re smothering those potatoes, and what you do is—while it’s still hard—you roll them and get everything all mixed up. Makes almost like a gravy with it while that water’s still in there. You mix all that up, get the seasoning spread—you got to add seasoning to it, also—get all that spread all over it. And when the potatoes are soft, they’re cooked. I’ll turn the fire off and I’ll lay about five slices of American cheese on top of that, cover it back up, and that’s going to all melt down through the potatoes. And I’ll say that with them duck breasts, and that’s a killer meal. Ain’t nobody ever shook their head at that.
Ramsey Russell: I bet there ain’t no late nights after that. I bet everybody is getting pretty reclined in those recliners, watching TV or whatever.
Warren Coco: Yeah. They love it. Those potatoes are really, really good.
Smoked Duck Recipe
Ramsey Russell: What do you do with those whole teal and some of that stuff you cook? I know you cook them a lot of different ways.
Warren Coco: We cook them a lot of different ways, and I started smoking ducks. I remember I bought a smoker. We used to smoke ducks when I hunted in Maurepas with Paul Dubeson, when I was hunting with him. He had a smoker called the Cajun Cooker. It was a round top—had a firebox in the body, put ten pounds of charcoal, you lit it up, let the charcoal burn down, and it had a couple of layers that you put a pan of water. We would take full mallards—not shot up, had good skin on them. Not shot up. We’d season the outside of them with Tony Chachere’s, which is a little bit salty for me. But they got a version of it that’s got less salt. Put that on there, season them up. Put them on that pit for two and a half hours, they were done. Now, a smoked duck is never going to be tender. You’re going to cut it with a knife, you’re going to slice it, and we would eat that with some A-1 steak sauce. Slice that duck breast, eat with that steak sauce. It was really good.
Ramsey Russell: While you’re talking about smoking ducks, I used to take a bunch of ducks to a meat processor that did a really good job smoking. And I’m talking, I’d shoot a bunch. Every time you go to church, or every time you go to little cookings, I knew better than to bring a whole carcass of duck because nobody likes duck, right? So I’d breast them out and slice them real thin and put them on a pretty little platter, and it’d always just vanish. People would go, “That’s unbelievable, that’s great deer meat.” Well, it ain’t deer meat, sir. It’s duck.
Cajun Injected Stuffed Duck Recipe
Warren Coco: Another recipe, what I do with the ducks— We’ll smoke the ducks and we’ll eat the duck smoked. Well, what happened, I hadn’t smoked ducks in years and I was at the Great Outdoors Festival in Oshkosh, had to be many years ago. And, man, they had these nice smokers there, propane smokers. Said, “Man, I need one of these. I want to eat some smoked ducks again.” I hadn’t eaten them in years. So I paid for it. They said, “So you’ll pick—” I said, “No, no, you’re going to ship it to me.” I said, “You charge me for the freight. I want you to ship that thing to Baton Rouge. I ain’t packing this back on an airplane.” I got the smoker. I put in my shed house. I forgot about it. About five years went by. Said, “Oh, man, I forgot about this.” So we brought it to the camp, up there in Black River, and Carol and I put it together—one of my managers, we put it together.
We shot some wood ducks that morning and we fired it up. Put some wood chips in it, followed the instructions, and threw it on there. What we did as, we had some Cajun Injector. We injected him. We said, “Well, this ought to be pretty good.” Well, I took off, go check on some water, or something. I come back about an hour and half later, and Carol had taken one of them out and cut it up and started eating. He says, “Man, you ain’t going to believe it. Wait till you taste this.” Man, I’ll tell you something. I said, “Oh my God, this is unbelievable.” Now, most people smoke meat, they smoke it at a low heat, and it takes forever. I’m going to smoke it at a high heat and get it over with quick. I’ll take a teal—about an hour and fifteen minutes, 300°, it’s ready to eat. I buy Louisiana Fish Fry products. Injector is Cajun butter. It’s not thin like water, it’s thick like ketchup. I’ll put a half a syringe in a teal, three quarters a syringe in a pintail or a wigeon or a gadwall. Mallard, you put a whole syringe, inject it all over. Season the outside with your Cajun seasoning, season the inside. You really want to get good? Get some good stuffing, some good rice dressing or cornbread stuffing, and stuff it inside the ducks. And to clean a duck, you go buy a good, stiff round hair brush to clean inside the duck out before you stuff it. But, anyway, I’ll smoke that. Teals, an hour and fifteen minutes. Mallard, it’ll be about an hour and a half. Something like that. You just got to watch until it’s cooked. I’ll take them out—we cut them up and eat them, just like that. I’ll serve that with wild rice, or my potatoes, and I got a little dipping sauce I’ll make. You get some horseradish and some orange marmalade. You take that marmalade and put you a little bit of horseradish, stir it up, mix it. You cut that duck breast, you dip that in that marmalade—you’re going to wet your leg when you eat that, buddy. It’s that good.
Ramsey Russell: I do something very similar. We call it Jezebel Sauce. You were talking about stuffing those ducks, and I guess you can make a good cornbread dressing, or an oyster dressing. But I bet boudin would go good in there, too.
Pot Roast Duck Recipe (Duck Gravy Recipe)
Warren Coco: Yeah, boudin. I’ve done boudin, also. I got two more recipes I want to talk about. My pot roast—they call it pot roast—sort of my duck gravy, is what Mason calls it. I would brown my ducks in bacon grease. I do it all different kinds of ways, but what I generally do now is, I’ll smoke my ducks on a smoker, just like I’m going to eat them. Don’t necessarily have to inject them, but you’re going to season them and smoke them. Then I cook my onions, my bell pepper, I’ll throw some celery in there like I did the other gravy, but I won’t put any red sauce in it. Add mushrooms. I got bacon chopped up, throw it in there. I’ll smother those ducks down in that with mushrooms, onions, bell pepper, celery, minced garlic. Cook all that down after they’re smoked. And, man, serve that gravy over rice, and it is unbelievable. It’s so good.
Duck and Sausage Gumbo Recipe
One other recipe, I’m trying to remember what it was. I had it on the tip of my tongue. A lot of people that kill a lot of ducks, they got too many ducks. They got ducks they need to get rid of. Okay, so what I do about July, August, I clean my freezer out. I’ll take every duck I got and I’ll smoke everyone up. When I pick a duck, I pick it to the elbow. I want that wing. I want that in my gumbo. I’ll smoke those ducks, breast them out with the skin on them, tear the legs off, cut the wings off, cut every piece of meat off there, cut the breasts in strips, and I’ll make me a gumbo. I’ll take the onions, bell pepper, celery. Smother all that down. Put my brown gravy mix for a roux. Use the same brown gravy mix for my roux. I like okra. I’ll buy chopped okra, and you want to precook that in a skillet to cook all the slime out of it. Just keep stirring it, cook it till you get rid of the slime. Then I throw that okra in there, and my smoked sausage. You know, duck and sausage gumbo is a staple down in south Louisiana, but what I like better than sausage is—like I just got for you—is that smoked andouille from Jacob’s in LaPlace, Louisiana. That is the best stuff I’ve ever put in a gumbo.
What is Andouille?
Ramsey Russell: All andouille (pronounced ohn-DOO-ee) is not created equal. No doubt about it. Explain to everybody who’s listening what andouille is.
Warren Coco: Andouille is, generally, like a sausage.
Ramsey Russell: It’s in a sausage casing but it ain’t like Jimmy Dean sausage.
Warren Coco: No. andouille doesn’t have any sage or anything like that in it. Jacobs’s andouille is like large chunks of pork, and it’s put into a case and it’s smoked. And it’s absolutely fabulous. Just like I served you some before. I cut the casing off of it, sliced it up into little patties, eat it with a little piece of cheese on a Ritz cracker. That’s as good as anything you ever put in your mouth. I’ll take that smoked andouille and I’ll cut it in little pancakes and I’ll quarter it. I’ll throw that in my gumbo with my ducks and smother that down. Last year when I did this, I had two five-gallon pots of gumbo when I got done. I had to go buy containers at the grocery store to put it all in. I put it all up, put it in the freezer, and eat it all year. If I’m going to camp, I’ll grab whatever size container I need. I’ll freeze enough for six people, enough for four people, enough for two people. I’ll pull some of that out when I get to the camp and I’ll make some rice and throw that in the microwave. So it’s as good as the day I cooked it, sitting there. If you got ducks to get rid of, that’s the way I do it. I’ll smoke all of them and put it in a gumbo, and it’s absolutely fabulous.
Pulled Duck BBQ Recipe
Ramsey Russell: We got just a minute, but I’m going to say, back in college a buddy and I would have a bunch of ducks at the end of duck season. We would just boil them down with big handfuls of whole garlic and some black pepper cloves and some different stuff. Just boil the meat till it fell off the bone. Then sit there and shred it all up into tin foil pans and put it on a smoker with some sauteed onions and barbecue sauce. Then we’d bring it to a big cookout, and that was barbecue sandwiches. That got rid of a lot of ducks quick.
Pan-fried Duck with Italian Breadcrumbs Recipe
Warren Coco: Oh, yeah. You can definitely do that. One more little quick recipe that’s quick and easy. Most of these young guys, they don’t know what picking a duck is. If they ever want to pick ducks, they need to borrow my duck picker. I’ll put that duck picker up against any duck picker on earth. I can pick a dry teal in thirty seconds all day long. I have picked one, on video, in thirteen seconds. But I’m good. I don’t pick thousands of them. But if you’ve got breast of ducks, you want a quick and easy way to fix them—like a mallard—take that breast, season it with your favorite seasoning, roll it in Italian breadcrumbs, pan fry in olive oil. Slice it up and eat with that orange marmalade with a little horseradish mixed with it. It’s absolutely killer. It’s really good. It’s a quick, easy way to cook ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Folks. What are y’all eating for lunch today, I wonder. Thank y’all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere podcast with Mr. Warren Coco. We’ll be back next week.
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It really is Duck Season Somewhere for 365 days. Ducks Season Somewhere takes me year-round to worldwide destinations where I meet the most interesting people. I’m your host Ramsey Russell. Join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome